Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bruce Davenport & Friends at Homespace

The art world can be a tough nut to crack, but lightning sometimes strikes unexpectedly. Consider Bruce Davenport Jr., who was raised by his grandparents in the Lafitte housing project, and who once aspired to a career in football until an injury returned him to his childhood fascination with art. Largely self-tutored, he struck a chord a few years back with his color marker drawings of local high school bands comprised of neat rows of of hieroglyphic-like figures that capture the rhythmic dynamism of subjects like the St. Augustine Purple Knights marching band (detail, above). In them he famously depicts the exact number of band members as well as meticulous multitudes of spectators and some personal messages like “Big Time Artist” and “RIP Lafitte Projects.” He used to sell such works for a few hundred dollars apiece, but thanks to influential advocates like Dan Cameron, who included him in Prospect.2, they now command several thousand apiece in New York and elsewhere. Now Davenport, who curated this show, does his part to promote the work of of less known artists from the 'hood.

Their efforts can seem a little chaotic. The edgy expressionistic energy of Anthony Clark's wall sculptures of wildlife and African warriors can be disorienting, but that may also be a strength. And what looks like slick airbrush illustrations of pin up girls by Lloyd Varnado are actually meticulously rendered pencil drawings made with a photo-realist technique he learned in prison, giving him the ability to be the next Mel Ramos if he wants to go that route. Painter-sculptor Carl Williams honed his skills the old fashioned way, in art school, but his soothing pastel colors seduce the eye into occasionally disturbing subject matter such as In Dat Water, above, the first painting he was able to complete after Katrina after a year long hiatus.. And you have to look twice to realize why John Isiah Walton's portraits of Zulu float riders look so creepy: they're all scowling white dudes like Dick Cheney in blackface. Yikes--keep that man away from the coconuts! ~Bookhardt

GOOD STUFF III: Group Exhibition Curated by Bruce Davenport Jr., Saturdays and Sundays Through March 11, Homespace Gallery, 1128 St. Roch Ave., 917-584-9867;